Last month Norwich City announced a brand new shirt deal with kit manufacturer Joma. The move represented something of a coup for the Spanish brand, returning to the Premier League arena with a team who possess one of the most distinctive colour schemes in the country.
For what it’s worth, I’m a big fan of Norwich’s 2021 kits which followed the announcement. The Canaries will be in possession of one of my favourite home/away combos in the league, and Joma’s impressive handiwork can be seen beyond East Anglia. In fact, our writer Matt penned a piece which looked at Joma’s rising stock and further releases have only solidified the claim that they’re a brand to watch.
In the Norwich x Joma announcement both parties made a big deal of highlighting Joma as a “top 10 sports brand in the world”. The claim stood out to me as a little bit on the bold side, but I was curious. Maybe, just maybe, Joma have a point. At the very least I wanted to try and put together a list of who I thought were worthy of the “top 10” category.
The ground rules
Before we try and come up with a list, we need to establish some important ground rules.
Are we trying to rank the top 10 biggest sports brands across all sports, or are we focusing strictly on football? If we’re keeping things within the football sphere, are we looking at just shirts, or including boots, balls, training gear etc.?
I’m going to focus strictly on football kits for the purposes of this piece, which immediately discounts a number of big sports brands who simply don’t operate in the shirt space.
So we’re looking at football shirts, but the next important consideration is are we looking at the top football shirt manufacturers of all time, or the top manufacturers based on the last few seasons? I’m choosing to look at the top names of recent times, but I’ll give a mention for a few nostalgic brands who are still doing their thing this season.
Category 1 – European exposure
Enough talk, let’s dive into this and try to begin to formulate some sort of top 10 football shirt brands list.
For the first category, I’m going to look at all clubs who made it to the last 16 of both the Champions League and Europa League in 2020/21. Here we’re looking not so much at the quality of the shirts themselves, but more so the exposure the brands are receiving as their shirts are worn at the business end of some of the biggest competitions.
2020/21 Champions League Last 16 by brand
|Brand||Teams in the last 16 of the Champions League|
2020/21 Europa League Last 16 by brand
|Brand||Teams in the last 16 of the Europa League|
Unsurprisingly Nike (13) and adidas (8) featured prominently through both the UCL and EL, and Puma (4) sit a little bit off the pace in 3rd place in terms of representation. It’s worth saying at this stage that Puma did have a team go all the way to the final with Manchester City, something adidas couldn’t claim.
After that though, it’s an almighty scrap for 4th place. Macron and Castore brought a sole team to the table, but New Balance and Joma managed to separate themselves ever so slightly with 2 teams a piece. Both had a team in the Champions League and Europa League, and Joma can even claim to have ‘won’ the Europa League after Villerreal’s heroics. For a note in New Balance’s favour, former Nike team Roma made a high-profile switch to NB this year, so the fight for ‘4th’ is only going to get hotter.
Category 2 – Strength in depth
It’s important not to be too ‘top heavy’, and so for our second category we’re going to look at shirt manufacturers’ strength in depth. What companies are providing shirts for teams in the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tiers of league competition? Who has an extensive portfolio of clubs which speaks to the kind of long-term growth potential a brand has?
For brevity, we’ll be looking exclusively at the 92 clubs that make up the Premier League and English football league, rather than the lower leagues across other countries.
Premier League and English Football League brands
|Brand||Teams across the Premier League and English Football League|
Huge shoutout to @playmaker_EN on Twitter who created the fantastic graphic above.
In an intriguing turn of events, Macron are sitting top of the pile with an impressive group of 13 teams. Despite not having a Premier League presence, a number of the more traditionally ‘big’ clubs in the EFL are covered including Nottingham Forest, Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday.
Close behind Macron are Puma with 12 teams. Unlike Macron, Puma do have a Premier League presence (and a pretty significant one at that) with defending champions Manchester City proudly flying the flag. Crystal Palace are a more than capable “#2” in the Puma ambassador role also.
Things continue to get interesting further down the list. hummel, a name we’ve yet to mention in this piece, are in a very strong position with 11 clubs. Like Puma they boast 2 clubs in the Premier League with Everton and, as of this season, Southampton carrying the famous bee logo, and further representation can be found right through the leagues.
adidas and Nike, the two big cats who dominated category 1, come in at joint-4th and 5th respectively, but I’d like to finish this section by highlighting the brands who tied adidas in the standings; Umbro and Errea. Both companies didn’t have any clubs make it to the latter stages of Europe, but their strength in depth in terms of clubs in England speaks to their success. Umbro are particularly notable on account of having a big Premier League with West Ham, Burnley and Brentford all carrying the double diamonds into battle this year.
Category 3 – International stage
Let’s focus briefly on how various sports manufacturers have fared at two recent major international tournaments. World Cups and European Championships provide an incredible opportunity for any brand to showcase their name to the world, and the latest technological innovations are often showcased during this top-tier level of competition.
For many of the brands on this particular list, the same teams are effectively appearing twice (i.e. Denmark wore hummel at both the World Cup and Euros, giving hummel a total of 2 teams for this category).
World Cup 2018 football shirt brands
|Brand||Teams at the 2018 World Cup|
Euro 2020 football shirt brands
|Brand||Teams at Euro 2020|
For the first time in this piece, adidas have managed to come on top in a category with a huge 20 nations across the most recent World Cup and Euros. Although adidas were conspicuously absent from both finals, their sheer footprint speaks to the strength of the brand.
Nike aren’t exactly resting on their laurels though, with just 1 less team for a total of 19. By contrast to adidas they’ve fared much better in terms of competition success, with an all-swoosh World Cup final in 2019 and a representative in the Euros final (England).
Puma are the unsurprising #3 with 8 teams across both tournaments, but after that there’s a real mix. New Balance (2) and hummel (2) are joined by a diverse party that includes names we’ve not talked about yet like Uhlsport and Jako.
Category 4 – Collectors corner
For our 4th and final category, we’ll be considering the most important criteria of them all; how much do the shirts of particular brands appeal to shirt collectors like you (probably) and me?
It’s tricky to pull this sort of information together, but I’m going to refer to FOOTY.COM’s Top 100 shirts list. The annual list was something I kicked off when I worked at FOOTY, and since its first edition in 2018 it’s gone from strength to strength. The list aims to create a comprehensive ranking of the best shirts released in a given year, and with the involvement of several prominent members of the community it’ss typically a close reflection of what people are collecting.
FOOTY.COM’s Top 100 Shirts of 2020 by brand
|Brand||Shirts in FOOTY.COM’s Top 100 Shirts of 2020|
Nike are the runaway winners in this category but the real story here is at #2. Puma have pipped adidas to the silver position, and at this point I’m ready to declare that the ‘big two’ of Nike and adidas is nothing of the sort. Puma deserve to be in the conversation as one of the biggest brands in the world, and certainly there’s a case to put them in the #2 spot overall all things considered.
hummel and Umbro are the other two headlines from a collectors perspective. Given the storied histories of both brands and the cult following that accompanies both, it’s perhaps not a huge surprise, but to see the two names so close to the likes of Puma and adidas tells you just how well they’re both doing.
Of course, Macron, Errea and Kappa aren’t far behind either, and Macron in particular have continued to show their worth throughout this article. Shoutout to Under Armour, who snuck in with 2 entries to beat the likes of New Balance who had been having the better of them up ‘till now.
Top 10 football shirt brands of 2021
So let’s put together a final list. We started by asking if Joma were truly one of the top 10 football shirt brands, and we’ve snaked our way through a number of different tangents to reach this point.
Here are my personal top 10 football shirt brands of 2021, based on criteria including international exposure, European competition, presence throughout the football league and collectability.
Top 10 football shirt brands of 2021
Nike need no introduction at #1. They are the clear leaders at the moment, and the brand have enjoyed a stunning renaissance after the low point of Euro 2016.
When I started this article, I was fully expecting to have adidas in either the #1 or #2 spot, but as we progressed it became clear that Puma were simply ahead of the three stripes in most areas. Though adidas commands some of the biggest names in terms of clubs and nations, Puma teams have been going further in competition and Puma are separating themselves in terms of shirt collectability.
It was tough to pick a #4, but I’ve gone with Macron. It was impressive to see them at #1 in the strength in depth category, and indeed the fact they have Champions League representation helped in the battle vs hummel. An international representative at a major tournament and a few more collectable shirts would solidify their spot, but they’re in a good place.
Collectors favourite hummel and Umbro sit in 5th and 6th respectively, and the main challenge here for both brands is to get their name deep into a European club competition. Purely in terms of shirts though, they’re hard to beat.
New Balance are my #7, and perhaps controversially I’ve placed them above Kappa. To try and explain my reasoning (let me grab my shovel), NB were clear of Kappa in terms of European club and international competition representation, and though Kappa shirts are more collectable they could really do with a big team or two to help them challenge the higher positions of this list.
I’ve placed Errea in 9th, and they are finely poised to place higher. Their position at 9th speaks more to the strength of other names on the list, rather than weaknesses of their own.
Finishing up, I’m happy to declare that Joma are indeed a ‘top 10 sports brand’, in my eyes at least. Although they were notably quiet in the Top 100 Shirts of 2020, I’d argue that we’ve seen a meteoric rise from the Spanish brand in a short space of time. If they can get a few more shirts onto the next edition of the list, they deserve to be in the conversation of a top 7, maybe top 6 brand, especially given their ‘success’ in the Europa League with Villareal.
There were many names who missed out on my top 10, so I wanted to briefly highlight them before we close.
First up, we have the nostalgic brands who are still active in the space today. Most notably Le Coq Sportif are knocking about, whilst the likes of Admiral, Fila and Mizuno still have small but distinctive footprints.
We then have a further chasing pack of names, some of which appeared in some of categories. Kelme, Under Armour and Castore are a few such brands, whilst we shouldn’t discount the likes of Charly, Uhlsport and Jako. Any one of these companies could be in an equivalent list come next season, with Charly being a personal favourite of mine who I’d love to see more in the European market.
Do you agree or disagree with my top 10 football shirt brands list? What brands have been criminally underrated? Let me know in the comments below!